figures shaking hands in elevator

Those hunting for financing know the need to explain their business convincingly in 45 seconds or less— the average length of an elevator ride. Not that you'll ever actually give the pitch in an elevator; at least, that has never happened to me. Most VCs like an appointment in their conference room, and the main reason for brevity is their short attention span. But the elevator pitch is also your first test. If you can't explain the concept of your business in under a minute, chances are you don't have one.

What about when we're not looking for money, do we stop honing the pitch? The elevator pitch isn't just for elevators, and it isn't just for financiers. We need buy-in from lots more folks than that—customers, prospects, employees, employee's better halves, suppliers, curious in-laws and the list goes on. It's the same messaging for all, and you only get good at it with continual practice.

In my previous companies I spent the first year or two in business regurgitating the elevator pitch to everything that moved, sharpening it as I went. This time we bootstrapped our company and have run Inbox Marketer on cash flow ever since. No need for money so no need for elevator pitch, right? I only discovered how rusty I was at the pitch when asked to give one impromptu at a seminar recently. I sat down after a meandering three minutes in front of glazed-over eyes and blank expressions.

The same seminar, put on by Golden Seeds in New York, then provided a very simple five-step framework for developing the pitch that one could apply to any business. I applied it to mine and a new software product Inbox just released—UMPIRE, our Unified Messaging Platform. Here's how I formed our pitch using their framework:

Step 1 – What problem are you solving? Every business begins with the customer, and so should your pitch. What pressing problem does your product or service solve for them?

UMPIRE addresses the problem of increasing marketing complexity. Digital messaging greatly enabled corporate marketing but also complicated it. There are many more channels to manage than just a few years ago (email, mobile, social, web). This means more campaigns to execute, more data to analyze and more decisions to make.

Step 2. Whose problem is it? Now it's time to identify your real customer, which isn't always obvious. In consumer marketing, user, purchaser and decision-maker often coincide. With B2B goods and services, there can be many participants in the decision chain and you have to identify your ideal pressure point.

We built UMPIRE for the people who execute marketing campaigns—marketing managers. They are rarely the decision makers, but they're certainly the influencers whom actual cheque-cutters listen to.

3. Current solutions to the problem. Chances are yours isn't the only solution to the problem; hopefully, just the best solution. When describing current solutions, you are also describing the gap in the market you are intending to fill.

Current solutions are old legacy email deployment systems and/or marketing automation systems. They are expensive, single channel, overengineered, difficult to use and require huge ongoing training expense. They are designed by software engineers with little input from marketing and the people who work with customers.

4. Our solution. Now you articulate your solution and contrast it with the solutions currently available. How is it an improvement?

UMPIRE is a unified messaging platform that deploys to all addressable digital media (email, mobile, social, web) and consolidates all returning data into a single datamart. It does this through an easy-to-use interface that we can train any marketer to use in two hours.

5. Why is your solution unique? This is the money shot. No matter who the audience, this is where you tell them why they care.

When we built UMPIRE, we essentially productized ourselves. We took everything we had learned about customers from 10 years running a successful full-service digital messaging company and incorporated it into our product. Our account managers worked side by side with our software engineers throughout the three-year development process. UMPIRE is built by marketers for marketers. It brings simplicity back to digital messaging.

It is surprising how often I now hear this pitch, or a variant of it, given by many people in the company. Done correctly, a good elevator pitch is an affirmation of your corporate culture.

Randall Litchfield was the editor of PROFIT Magazine from 1986 to 1990 and has been an entrepreneur ever since. He is most recently co-founder of Inbox Marketer Inc., a Guelph, Ont.-based email marketing services firm, and a four-time member of the PROFIT 200 ranking of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies.

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